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Health Department talks GC COVID surge, how to have safe Thanksgiving

By Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Free testing for COVID-19 continues at the Grayson County Health Department in Sherman.

Grayson County's active COVID-19 case numbers surged to over 400 this past weekend. While the number quickly dropped back below 400, local authorities are concerned that may not last.

As Texas recently surpassed the 1 million case milestone, North Texas has experienced a coronavirus case surge. The number of cases in Grayson County has greatly surpassed the spring peaks.

"I don’t expect the number of cases to decrease anytime soon," Grayson County Health Department Director Amanda Ortez said. "If anything, I expect the number of cases to continue to rise and the upcoming holiday gatherings are not likely to help matters any."

The high numbers were addressed during the county's weekly meeting of  the commissioners. Grayson County Judge Bill Magers talked about the percentage of hospitalizations versus the number of available hospital beds saying the local percentage of hospitalizations is what is used to determine how open places like restaurants and bars can be.

If the combined hospitalizations in those counties in a region reaches 15 percent of available beds and remains there for seven consecutive days, the county judge will have to advise the governor's office of that fact. That could lead to restrictions in things like the number of people who can be in eateries and bars, Magers said Tuesday. 

For purposes of this system of tracking the spread of the virus, GC is figured in with counties to the south meaning there are more hospital beds to figure into the equation. 

Grayson is in a group called a RAC that also includes with Collin, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Erath, Fannin, Hood, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Navarro, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwall, Somervell, Tarrant and Wise counties. 

The regional percentage was at 14.39 percent and rising Tuesday.

The local number, if judged only by hospitals in Grayson County, has been higher than the 15 percent for a while now, Commissioner Jeff Whitmire pointed out.

Grayson County active COVID-19 cases above 400

On Monday, the county sent out a report saying that in county hospitals were at 19.31 percent of capacity with COVID-19 patients.

As of Monday evening, Grayson County had lost 88 people to COVID-19 related deaths. More than 36,000 tests have been given out in Grayson County and more than 3,547 people have been confirmed to have had the illness. 

Ortez said people should really be thinking hard about their plans for Thanksgiving.

"If you intend on continuing with Thanksgiving celebrations plans, then tell your attendees to plan to wear masks, socially distance, refrain from attending the event if they have been ill or have been recently exposed, advise that they will be screened for recent symptoms — similar to what your doctor’s office has been doing before you show up to an appointment — consider having the celebration outdoors, open windows and doors if you must have the gathering inside," she said.

She also recommended that if it is possible, keep those that are highly susceptible on opposite sides of the room or ask that they sit in another room designated for them with open windows and doors for ventilation purposes. Family should also use single-use food service gloves to touch common surfaces, have disinfectant available and wash their hands as often as possible. 

Stephanie Meade with Well Health confirms the identification of someone pulling in to be tested for COVID-19 antibodies at the Grayson County Health Department. [Jerrie Whiteley / Herald Democrat].

"Unfortunately, I think many individuals are letting their guard down and not adhering to the public health recommendations aimed at reducing the further spread of COVID-19," Ortez continued. "Any family that is considering having a gathering for birthdays, social events, an upcoming Thanksgiving celebration, etc. should really stop and consider who are the most susceptible members of those groups."

Those individuals include people with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions.

"Although this pandemic is really testing everyone’s patience, we need to continue to make the sincere effort to continue to adhere to the public health interventions.

The most up-to-date CDC recommendations can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html.

Ortez urged people to continue to think about those on the frontlines.

"They are vital to all of us," she said. "They are getting worn out and worn down. If we do our part and help prevent additional cases, their days will be brighter and their load lighter.  We need to consider the mental health toll this is taking on everyone; including the people that work to save the lives of those that end up going to the local hospital facilities and end up in the ICU’s on the COVID-19 units."